I’m excited to launch a new challenge for readers and writing: it’s a 30-day editing challenge for you to follow along with me. I’ll be tackling the many ways that we can take a half-finished story and bring it to its full potential. Follow along with me this month and take your story to the next level! And if you’re interested in really taking your editing quest seriously, then visit my Services page for my professional manuscript consulting services.
Too many writers think that all the work of writing takes place in the first draft of a story. They suck in a deep breath, get their inspiration from the muse, and pound through a story like it’s a sprint. Once they’ve finished the first draft, they think, the rest is really just manual labor or window dressing: fixing the grammar, filling in a plot hole, laboring a little with a missing scene. And far too many stories that could have been great stop right there.
Have you been in this boat? I think most of us have, particularly when we’re just starting out. We write a story, barely glance over it before breathlessly sending it out, and then have to face the puzzlement and disappointment of seeing the rejection slips come in. Then we think that’s it: that’s the life cycle of a story, and now we move on to the next. But I want to impress on my readers how very wrong they are. That early stage of writing isn’t the end — it’s barely even the beginning! It’s the caterpillar. It’s not even the chrysalis yet.
I think the mistake in abandoning stories stems from the idea that we are more or less married to the idea as it originally came to us. We think of story ideas as precious, gossamer things, better left untouched, fragile as a moth’s wings. We faithfully capture the original idea, and then when we face the story for some editing, we feel paralyzed. I can’t change that character too much. He came to me as a loveable screwup. There’s nothing else I can add. Or, the original ending I had in mind was that she sells the house. I’m stuck with that. How can I possibly change what originally gave me the idea to write?
In a new series on revision, I want to try to dispel some commonly held myths about what we can and can’t do. Over and over I’ve thought stories of mine that limped across the finish line of a first draft were done, set in stone, with no potential for further growth or improvement. I’ve felt that small shudder of disappointment that yet another story has concluded without achieving all the things I thought it could. But when I revisit, and I consider revision to be as creative a process as the creation of the first draft, I’m stunned by how much a story can be changed. Stories that I thought were going nowhere have become some of my favorite pieces when I discovered the freedom I had to change and re-imagine.
That’s not to say that editing isn’t hard. Revision, just like generation, is hard, dirty work. But with some guidance and some new ideas, we can stop feeling paralyzed and helpless, re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We can build a whole new damn boat. We can plug the leaks.
Get on board with the 30-day editing challenge. We start tomorrow, and it’ll be 30 days full of editing tips, techniques, and philosophy.